Yeah, it’s that time of the year again. Today marks 3 years since Lynn passed. It’s this time in particular that a lot of emotions come flooding in. That time of the year when those damn Facebook memories keep popping up reminding me of how well life was going. That time of the year that I intensely reflect on how suddenly and dramatically my life changed. I like to think I can control the emotions … hold back the waves … but I can’t. So, the waves of grief roll in and you brace yourself as best you can to absorb their impact. But have no doubt … there’s no avoiding it.
To this day I still shake my head at the thought of it all. On minute we’re in such a good place … mentally, emotionally, and physically … and then the next minute to have it all go to shit. I don’t think I’ll ever get my head totally around it and will probably be shaking my head on occasion until the day I depart this incredible earth. Now, I can say that after three years that the waves are less frequent and less intense. And I can also say that although there’s always some level of grief that I carry … that grief can and does co-exist with joy in my heart and soul. And as such it allows me to “live on”. … remembering and honoring my past. But at the same time experiencing joy and being grateful for my blessings … my health, my family, my boys, my friends, and my Marli.
And just when life wasn’t challenging enough … we throw the COVID-19 pandemic and the killing of George Floyd and all that’s happening in its aftermath into the mix. As an outstanding medical professional, I like many who knew Lynn would’ve leaned on her for guidance through the COVID pandemic. And as for the George Floyd murder. I know Lynn would have been devastated by the sight of it … seeing that police officer kneel on George Floyd’s neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds with his hand in his pocket and an expression of total disregard on his face. Being a person that was so selfless, kind, compassionate, empathetic, and loving … and a person that had zero tolerance for racism and prejudice … I know this would’ve have bothered her deeply.
When I launched this blog almost 3 years ago, I said that at some point I’d want to expand the topics beyond suicide awareness and prevention and talk about social issues. Well I can’t think of a better time to start. Given what’s happening in the world today, specifically highlighted by George Floyd’s murder, I know Lynn would want me to speak up about what’s going and do what I could to effect change. So that’s what I’m going to do.
Since George Floyd’s murder, I’ve started to engage more directly on the issues of social injustice and inequality with friends and family; via social media; as a corporate business leader communicating my thoughts to employees and colleagues. And through these interactions I’ve received lots of feedback. Lots of positive feedback from black friends and colleagues … happy that as a leader I’m taking a stand and speaking out. Lots of positive feedback from my white friends and colleagues … expressing concerns for what their black friends and peers endure; acknowledging that injustice and inequality exist; talking to their own biases; and pledging to listen and learn more.
I’ve also received some critical feedback. The critical feedback was specifically related to a “letter” I sent to my work colleagues a week or so following George Floyd’s death. When I first read the critical feedback, it made me angry and I wanted to aggressively push back. But I let it sit for a couple days before responding to it. And the more I reflected on it … I was glad I had received it because I think it provides an opportunity to directly address and have candid discussions about individual biases and what I believe are misconceptions of what’s really happening across the country (and world for that matter) and why. As I studied the feedback carefully, I noticed that a few themes emerged … particularly around the violence and looting; black on black crime; George Floyd as a hero; and “black lives” matter vs “all lives” matter. I’d like to briefly address each of them as I think so people many are missing the point on what’s happening in this moment and why …
- It’s not about the looting. I get it … seeing the violence and the destruction is disturbing. But we’re losing sight of what ignited it … people weren’t rioting and looting until after they saw a black man senselessly murdered in plain view of the whole world, a modern-day lynching. George Floyd was murdered by a cop with his knee on his neck, hand in his pocket, with a look of total of disregard on his face … that’s what ignited this. Yes, the collateral damage is terrible, and I feel for those innocent, hard-working people impacted … but let’s not lose sight of what ignited the fire. As the late, great, Dr. Martin Luther King said in 1967 as part of his “The Other America” speech … “Let me say as I’ve always said, and I will always continue to say, that riots are socially destructive and self-defeating … But in the final analysis, a riot is the language of the unheard. And what is it that America has failed to hear? … It has failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met. And it has failed to hear that large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice, equality, and humanity. And so in a real sense our nation’s summers of riots are caused by our nation’s winters of delay. And as long as America postpones justice, we stand in the position of having these recurrences of violence and riots over and over again.”
- It’s not about the fact that statistically the majority of blacks killed in violent crimes die at the hands of other blacks. Yes, I get it … I’m well aware of the statistics and it’s a serious issue that also needs to continue to be addressed. But that’s not the point here. The point here is based on what we just witnessed … a man being brutally murdered in plain view of the world by law enforcement … is a significant issue. Should people not be angry and be compelled to shine a spotlight on the injustice even if statistically blacks die at much higher rates by other means? That would be like saying that since heart disease is the leading cause of death in the US (and world), we should just focus there and ignore other causes that happen at a lower rate? The point is we saw a man slowly murdered, for 8 mins and 46 seconds, by law enforcement. Law enforcement, an institution that’s a critical component of our justice system … the men and women that swear an oath to protect and serve. To watch him being killed by the officer with his hand in his pocket, in total control, for 8 minutes and 46 seconds … that’s symptomatic of a bigger issue.
- It’s not really about “George Floyd”. Look, there’s folks out there like Candace Owens attacking George Floyd’s character. She cites his long criminal record, suggests he was violent, questions why he’s being hailed as a hero. First, she’s misleading and inaccurate in some of the things she says about George Floyd. Second, I don’t hear people trying to make George Floyd out to be some kind of saint … it’s well known he had his issues and had recently served time in prison. But regardless of his past and what he allegedly did on May 25th … to die the way he did … in plain view of the world … at the knee of omnipotent cop … is just wrong. I think Dave Chappelle got it right when he said during his Netflix “8:46” special in reaction to Candace Owen’s comments about why does the black community choose George Floyd as a hero? Chappelle points out “We didn’t choose him, you [they] did … they killed him and that wasn’t right … so he’s the guy”. I think he nailed it … see it’s not really about George Floyd (no disrespect to George or his family) … it’s about what we witnessed; it’s about what happened to an unarmed, handcuffed black human being. George Floyd’s murder is emblematic of a bigger issue. It happened to be George Floyd but that could’ve been any black man … it could’ve been me.
- It’s not that “all lives” don’t matter … there’s no question that they do. It’s not that “black lives” matter above all others. But for “all lives” to matter “black lives” have to matter too. To shift the emphasis from “black lives” matter to “all lives” matter is to deny there’s a problem, to deny there’s an inequity. But given history and recent events there’s plenty of reason to suggest that “black lives” are not equally valued. The point is when people say “black lives” matter it’s not to suggest that others don’t. It’s to simply say that there’s a significant issue that needs to be addressed and it’s going require us to come together collectively to oppose racism, injustice and inequality … so that “all lives” are valued equally.
Look, I know this is heavy stuff. And it pains me more than you know that here we are in 2020 and we must deal with this, talk about this … but it’s our reality. So, we do need to talk about this, we do need to deal with this … and do something to make real change going forward. That’s what the vast majority of those on the streets are telling us. So, in honor of my late, beautiful wife, someone who’d be deeply disturbed by all of this … I’m going to actively engage in this dialogue, take action, and do what I can to make real change.
I hope you’ll join me. More to come.